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Thursday, May 13, 2010

What supporting Manchester United means

this appeared as the Editorial of RN166, printed on the 10th March 2010. You can read thought provoking pieces in every edition of the mag and ordering details are provoided at the end of this article...

Like any other printed organ containing opinion pieces, Red News is always going to contain features that some people like and enjoy, or don't, or gel with, because just like an after match pint with mates, you are always going to agree and disagree on certain topics and comment. Just because we are Manchester United fans, and match going mates (or strangers sharing a passion for all things Red), doesn't mean our broad church will necessarily sing from the same hymn sheet on many issues.

There are stark examples of this. Like Dimitar Berbatov, who some consider the second coming after that Eric fella, whilst others jettisoned from their favour because of considerable doubt about his undoubted talent being reflected in his Utd performances matching the fee paid. Even after a great recent scoring run, still some doubt. Never discount anything is my rule of thumb these days, and expect the unexpected in Utd life and that away from it but though not much surprises me these days, I was a little taken aback when we put Berbatov on our cover two issues ago, to have a few Reds not only abuse him from a distance (literally) as they walked past: ‘Wanker’, ‘why have you put that twat on there?’, to even one matchday Utd staffer joining in and shouting ‘he's a cunt’ (well, I think he meant the cover and not me...). None of them bought it!

We can all celebrate the turnaround in Darren Fletcher's career, but few were those who saw or predicted what we now see, and though many are now purring at the sudden arrival of Micky Phelan's 1991 long lost twin from his European man marking success on that road to Rotterdam in Ji Sung Park at the moment in this year’s European quest, he too has split the Utd terraces over his worth.

In most cases it's healthy. If everybody looked and felt the same we'd be well fucked, especially if everyone ended up as ugly as Martin Keown and you had to bed a Keownesque woman’ but football has always been about someone taking to a player, or having a theory that others feel polarised with. It may become a problem when it deteriorates into a bandwagon and criticism, at first constructive, which sometimes turns into dismissive and then destructive, but the beauty of Utd's vast support is that whilst each and every game we'll be surrounded by strangers and mates, who we share many similarities with, or few, who we get on with or tolerate, who we like or are puzzled at; we accept each other because we share something. And it is still special. The bastards might have bought us to the brink leading to Green & Gold, the Gimps may ruin the pleasure of much about this great football club of ours, but in its purest form, Manchester United is untainted and still ours.

This now our 23rd anniversary, not far off a unique achievement in the football fanzine universe, if there's not much satisfaction that comes with selling in all conditions when you'd rather be warm and dry in a pub, it is the people who flock past that make or break you. You know just a fraction of the support, but you get to spot many familiar faces even if they don't see you.

Some walk past with their eyes down, some take part in habitual rituals, some are so close to the ground you see their camera come out, the wallet is patted for confirmation that a ticket has been remembered. The cans were omnipresent until the dibble recently took that privilege away for many because we now live in times that even sanitised football support can't seem to be tolerated to do what the rest of the country is allowed to do as they further turn people into robots, but you see Reds, pissed up and blissed up, singing a song, expectant or nervous about the proceedings ahead. You see United fans in all its glory.

You see young in too few numbers, but enough to hope that the baton passed to them will be held and cherished to pass down the ages, older Reds who now take more time to head in, but feel the buzz and anticipation of arrival as they did all those years ago when they first started attending. They go in, in groups, or on their own, or with family, Dad and son, Dad and daughter, and you buzz off it because whilst prices and changes have decimated our support, that we still have a core is tribute to this Red Army of ours.

So one of my favourite pieces in this mag, without blowing my trumpet (if only I could, I could have earnt a fortune) is the Loyal Through and Through column that gives those Reds who have served their time the opportunity to tell us a bit about themselves. From different walks of life and destinations near and far, they are Red, proud and have done their bit for United.
I hope he won't be offended by mentioning his greying locks, but I love the contrast in each piece as we show a picture of them nowadays and from yesteryear. Trevor last issue was pictured at a recent game looking good, and with Sir Matt back then. Our lives move on as time does, but United is constant, consistent. The likes of Trevor (and Groomy, owner of not just that famous flag, but that famous tattoo) is what United is all about.

We may struggle with anniversaries or birthdays, or our lives in general, but we know pretty much where we stand with United; when games are, when we're going next, what's coming up. I struggled recently to map out what I was doing and when in the next month or two, but reeled off the remaining fixtures and which I'd be at. United at times makes life simple, however stressful watching them can be!

If you can stand the horror and don't mind the name dropping which isn't really my bag or intention, I showcase these pictures here of me through the ages (one the first taken of me at OT) not to terrorise people with my Halloween scary looks, or show how baldness can terrorise a head over time, but because my photo albums aren't really of holidays or occasions, but of meetings with United legends or at games. It still feels like yesterday when I buzzed off meeting Robbo at the player of the year dance and he probably queried his pint at the horrendous colour of glistening shirt I was wearing, but it wasn't, it was over 25 years ago, and that's slightly scary. Where does it go? Were the Oldham semis we feature elsewhere 20 years ago? Hang on, I just left the Britannia Hotel bar giddy as fuck celebrating Palace knocking Liverpool out of the Cup.

But I didn't, because so much has happened, that time marches on remorselessly, which if you really think about it - and I mean really think about it - makes Fergie's achievements that much more miraculous and incredible. He's coped with all the changes, as culture and society itself speeds up, yet still made his Utd that we watch feel part of our community and world.

It’s that great night of the FA Cup Final Replay in ‘83. Then I'm meeting Big Fat Ron and hoping he'll make that attractive side of ‘83 into league winners that they could have been. But he didn't, and then it's preseason in '87 as alcohol first enters my body regularly as I'm watching Utd, as a student, with the lads. Mental. Then it's Barcelona, 1999, and my clothes sense hasn't improved but we'll never forget that finale or what we did, or where we were. And then it's Moscow. And if not better than Barca, bloody not half bad as we remember that too but we don't and can't stand still, and it's now two years on from even Russia. So we look at photos or just remember in our heads. What we did, who we were with. How we did it. Over the years, near and far. And then look forward because the here and now can be quite fun too!

Many will have never been an anorak like me and collected the old pics on our Utd travels but we have them stored up there. Years pass but you never see them as that, your life is moved by seasons not years, and you say at the end of every season ‘I'm glad of the break’, and then get desperate and eye the fixture lists coming out, and here we go again. Birthdays may be forgotten but we'll never forget February 6th or happier times on May 26th. Utd exists because of us, patronised and looked down upon maybe by those running it, but the financial lifeblood to which all the Gimps rely. But the Glazers have no rights of ownership over our club even if they hold mere documents stating that.

You get older, and at times it's not very kind, as life can be with hurt and loss, but you have United, you treasure United, be it a visit once a season, all the time or when you can. It would be rude to say it serves a purpose because for most of us it's much more than that, but it's importance in our life gives a sense of purpose to everything else even if people argue whether they agree or not with Bill Shankly’s famous quote.

And you grumble and moan because that's what part of football is about, and then you miss Ronaldo, and then you sort of don't miss him as the team, Fergie's team, once again surprises you at how this season, written off before it even started, could see us triumph at home and abroad again. Some like myself don't age as well as Trevor what with my pot belly and baldness but I see some faces every game that we sell at and it reassures and pleases me that they are still there, as much as other matchday rituals. We all have a United story to tell, and as long as we do, we'll stand together (when not told down to sit) because the bond we share is greater than the differences we have as individuals. Every Red a story, or has one, and every Red as important as the next one.

Hopefully we'll go as long as we can or want to, but whatever decisions to be made, which must be left to the individual, the facts are that near or far the Glazers will be gone. United's history is not about owners who stay the course, and because they see the club in terms we don't, nor understand what Utd really is about, their tenures are short lived because they will never view or understand United in the light that we do. They may give it some darkness, but the fact is the Reds who walk down Warwick Road now Matt Busby Way do it because their emotional attachment is unconditional, not financial. Do not taint our existence at Utd through their ownership, their bond scheme. Because their running of the club doesn't tarnish Rooney's goals or the delight of doubly stuffing city, that Utd, our Utd, does exist due solely to us but it is not a one way street, it gives us existence be it something to look forward to or rely on or be a crux rather than a crutch but we know we owe our Utd too.

I feel sadness at no longer seeing those faces who are no longer there because they have sadly passed away, but know in some form they are still with us, and be it Andrew and Paul who've bought every mag there has been or a kid making his first foray into the fanzine world but still sharp enough at his age to know, no, it's not the fucking programme (if I wasn’t such a guilty twat I should have said yes it is and cleaned up!) but in ten minutes versus Milan we had a 60 year old and then a 17 year old kid buying the mag; we don’t have as many kids as we did and should but it is heart warming not only that the fanzine can be enjoyed by young and old but kids are still there to take that baton. And people like Trevor and Groomy carry on, as they always have.

Trevor put in his loyal through and through last time when asked what United means to him: ‘If I have to explain you wouldn't understand.’ and that sort of cuts through my waffle, straight to the point. I don't remember who penned this but someone also once said: “I look at United in the same way my dog looks at me. No matter what I do he loves me. It's unconditional.”

You see, whilst the Gimps' ownership, the ticket prices, now and ever since the plc days and before, the kick-off times and put upons on our support may have seen Reds of all ages and from all times question what next, nobody has ever fallen out of love with Manchester United, only the hassles on people who wanted to see their team with ease like they used to. Whilst the here and now is vital, we always remain interlinked with the past, present and future too. We are that connection. Some kid now will have a pic taken with Rooney, and look at it in 30 years time. The fan relationship with Utd in its essence remains not just untainted or besmirched but umbilically tight. Which is why when we first sang: ‘We love United, we do’ or ‘Forever and Ever’ we meant it then as much as we do with gusto now. Our Manchester United Football Club is not their Manchester United.

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